I puttered my decrepit Toyota pickup down to the dock. The bed was filled with flats of canned goods, a few portions of frozen meat, onions, potatoes and the laundry. Charlie, my 2inCharge, kicked down the gangway when he saw who it was. I waved and secured it. We kept a 4-wheeled rolling cart near the dock for carrying stuff to the ship. I'd screwed cleats to each side of the gangway the previous year after losing a cart-full over the side. That was a painful surprise.
It was a bit after dawn. I parked the truck and locked it up, then pushed the cart up the gangway laden with grub. "How's the chiller?" I asked. "Fine. It was holding steady at thirty-four degrees at my last check."
The Water Weasel was a converted Naval diesel-driven coastal patrol boat from the 2000's. She'd been retro-fitted with four shallow refrigerated holds and a Gin Pole hoist, both to operate the net and to retrieve the fish from the holds. We'd had trouble with fluctuating temperatures in the rear hold and lost some of the catch two days before. We replaced the hold thermostat and hoped for the best. So far, so good.
We didn't have the biggest operation in the area, but we were comfortable. We used a five-meter dip net off the stern instead of a big weighted bottom-dragger net like the factory ships used. It was a balancing act to watch the depth sounder and work the hoist. We didn't want to foul it on any submerged wrecks or other junk. We worked the flats off of Nantucket and a bit north into the Bay of Fundy. The waters between Maine and Nova Scotia weren't that deep but you still had to be careful when the winds came up. Since we worked a dip net that didn't trash the bottom the Coast Guard was pretty happy with our operation and we were allowed to shallow-fish over several fisheries. We watched our limits and sold prime live catch to the markets in Newport and New Bedford, sometimes on up to Portland Maine.
On this run we decided to run up to Portsmouth, then East between the channels. We planned to be out two days. One to run up the coast and watch the depth sounder, then next night to fish and get back to port. Our ship was big enough to call a live-aboard. We had six individual cabins and a large, comfortable salon fitted out. We had out-sized diesel tanks for our class but still, fuel cost money!
Charlie and I had decided to stay aboard after the fall storms hit. We'd save some money on apartment rent and could get electric to the ship. We'd have to pay slip rental irregardless of being aboard or not. It was still early September so we had plenty of time to prepare.
We'd gotten on station or a bit West of our target coordinates when we decided to do a trial drop of the net. Besides, I wanted some fresh fish for dinner. We dropped clean, waited a bit for the fish to swim over the net then engaged the cable hoist. It seemed to be strain a bit more than usual. Charlie and I exchanged glances. We didn't like surprises. From the wheelhouse I saw the net come into view beneath the surface. We had a nice haul of fish, and something else. The net was angled to one side. Just as the net broke the surface the cable engine began to labor--hard. Charlie shut it down fast. I used my binoculars to see what I could find. Shit. We'd snagged some trash. It looked like a mini-sub or a survival craft, the kind they used on the oil rigs. I couldn't tell in the fading light so I hit the switch for the big working spot lights. It was a sub, bright orange. I yelled down to Charlie-- "We snagged a little sub! I'll get my gumby suit on and grab a gaff. Tie off the net to the stern, would you? I'll climb out and unhook our guest." He nodded and got to work while I set the auto-pilot for station keeping and went below for my survival suit. It's a flotation suit designed for cold water work.
I walked out onto the rear deck, grabbed a fending pole and tied two ropes to my waist. Charlie knew enough to watch and pull me in if I got in trouble. "I'm gonna tie it off so we can see if it's worth anything, salvage wise." He grinned. "Christmas presents?" "Maybe. I hope so!"
I crawled out on the net, holding onto the steel rim as it rocked and spun in the water. I stepped over the side of the net when I was as close as I was going to get to the net. We'd fouled the craft's short conning tower. I could see a hoisting eye about four feet under the surface. I took one rope in my hand, pushed down until I could get the toe of my boot into the eye and pulled myself under. I quickly made the rope fast and bobbed back up to the surface. I held up an arm with one thumb straight up to let Charlie know I was OK. Next came the tricky bit--unfouling the hatch and tower. I had it done in about half an hour, by which time I was ready to rest for a while. I rolled myself back over the side of the net and motioned for Charlie to bring up the net, with me on it. He untied the frame from the stern, took off the brake and brought us up and over the hatch, where I crawled out of the dip net. I didn't want to find myself ten feet below in a refrigerated hold!
We dumped the fish and secured the net. It was time to see what we'd brought up. We pulled the line tight until the sub was along side and secured it. I still had my suit on so I was elected. I dropped over the side on a rope ladder and secured the rear eye. Since I was already down there I spun open the dog on the hatch and gave it a pull. It came away, opening easily on its hinges. It didn't look to be in too bad of a shape. The little sub's paint was clear and there wasn't any overgrowth. The air that puffed up at me wasn't foul. It was warm! That alarmed me. I might have to play medical tech real quick. I pulled a flashlight off my belt and scanned the inside of the sub.
There, fastened to a bunk, was a body. That was just wrong! Nobody went out alone if they had a lick of sense. I clumsily made my way down the ladder in my heavy rubber suit. I managed to free a glove and put my hand to their neck. It was warm. I turned them over in the bunk to check their pupils and breathing. It was a woman! or rather, a girl. An I. V. was taped to her arm. It looked like someone had set her adrift after doping her up. From looking at the clips the bed netting had been secured from the outside.
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I pulled the I. V. line and twisted shut the drip regulator. Someone could find out what she was being force-fed later. I climbed back up the ladder and shouted out to Charlie. "Hey! I've got a live one! I need a retrieval harness and a rope! We still got that painting rig?" He took off to the paint locker for our half-assed bosun's chair, used for scraping, painting and patching the outer hull. He threw it over to me. I caught it and slid down the ladder, being careful not to knock my head in. I got her free of the bunk and into the harness, somehow. I yelled for Charlie to pull her up as I guided her away from anything that would knock her brains out. We got her up and over the side. I looked around the little sub. I found the master battery cut-out and threw it. It was suddenly very dark and menacing in that little craft. I carefully crawled up and out of that thing, then dogged the hatch. It was scraping against our hull. I dug up a couple of bumpers and tossed them over the side. I put my weight into a fending pole and the bumpers dropped down between the sub and our ship.
Charlie had her lying down on the couch in our salon. I went up to the helm where I wrote down our GPS coordinates and called the Coast Guard on the ship-to-shore radio. When they found out what we'd snagged and the fact that she was still alive things started happening in a hurry. Well, in a hurry for a sea rescue. We had twelve guys coming down ropes from two big Sikorsky sky cranes within the hour. A doctor gave her a full going-over even though she was still unconscious. He wanted that I. V. bag! A team of the Coasties attached that sub to one of their sky cranes and off they flew. As I watched them fly off in the night I yelled out "WELL, FUCK YOU TOO!"
We went back to work harvesting the night's catch. We were late in our run and had to cut it short to get back to port in order to hit the early fish market. Shit. We'd even missed dinner! Charlie wasn't any happier about it than I was. We only made about two-thirds of our usual harvest and still had our normal expenses.
That morning after selling our catch we headed towards our usual watering hole for breakfast. We weren't in the mood for any 'good morning' shit. We just wanted to eat, pay up and get some shut-eye. One of the other fishermen we knew sat down with us and asked "Who pissed in your beer?" "The goddamned coasties, that's who." "Whaa-" I told the story of our partially-aborted catch. The place got quieter and quieter as people listened in. "We didn't get salvage, thanks, by-your-leave or fuck off. To hell with 'em all! I finished my coffee, slammed a twenty on the table for tab and tip, then we headed back to the ship. I had a long-overdue appointment with my bunk.
.... There is more of this story ...